Written in 1797, Cherubini's faithful version of Euripides' ancient tragedy is one of the most savage and powerful works of the opera repertoire, relating the cruel vengeance of a wounded woman for whom infanticide seems to be the only solution to her humiliation in love. As a continuation of Gluck's music, Cherubini's work is of boundless emotion, at once a refined, terrifying and desperate portent of a tragic outcome.
harpentier’s Médée is one of the glories of the Baroque. Medea’s betrayal by Jason, her comprehensive revenge and the plight of those caught up in this epic tragedy prompted Charpentier to compose music of devastating power. Transcending the constraints of the Lullian tragédie lyrique, he produced characterisations of astonishing complexity and invested vast stretches of music with a dramatic pace and a harmonic richness rivalled among contemporaries only by Purcell. The electrifying exchanges of the third act, mingling pathos with extreme violence, alone put Charpentier on the same imaginative level as Rameau and Berlioz. The machinations of the fourth act and the dénouement in the fifth maintain the same captivating impetus.
There are quite a few French Baroque ballet and opera samplers on the market, perhaps because theses repertories, with their arcane textual and musical conventions and their unfamiliar genres, are thought to be rather inaccessible for general listeners in complete works or large chunks of them. The reconstructions of William Christie and others, including this disc's conductor, Sigiswald Kuijken, have shown that equal parts of imagination and musicality can go a long way toward making the operas of the French Baroque come alive, and the repertoires of virtuoso singers are beginning to reflect this.
For twenty years William Christie and Les Arts Florrisants have contributed immeasurably to our understanding of Baroque opera. Unequalled in the French repertoire until Rameau, Médée far surpasses the finest work of his great rival Lully. Returning to this recording, I was struck by the rhythmic infectiousness and élan of concerted scenes, especially the divertissement which concludes act 2… Jan Smaczny